Just in time for Memorial Day weekend and summer listening, here's my list of the best albums of 2011 thus far. As always, this is a totally subjective, non-exhaustive sample of the best of what I've been listening to.
1. Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest: Ok, I know, this album isn't even out yet, and I haven't heard it. However, I ask myself at least once a month when Welch will bring out a new album. It's been seven years or so! Anything with Gillian is golden, so it goes to #1.
2. The King Is Dead, The Decemberists: Gillian lends her voice to this album, and of course everything by The Decemberists is epic and wonderful, and this one no less than their previous albums.
3. Reform Follows Function, Nate Houge: I've been getting to know Nate's music over the last year or so. His last album, Becoming Liturgy, as well as a recent children's album, are all on heavy play in our house and in my office, and I'm working on adapting and learning some of his music for our worship.
4. Kaivama: Finnish-American musicians Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman (yes, THAT Rundman who has made "best" lists here in the past for Insomniaccomplishments and other great albums, have put out this arty Finnish folk album that is simply splendid.
5. Tirtha, Vijay Iyer: It seems there have been a lot of creative fusion albums coming out lately, and this one is my favorite jazz album of the year thus far, combining Iyer's talents on the piano and the Hindu tabla instrument.
6. Preservation: An Album To Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Music Outreach : Program (Deluxe Version): Rounding out the list of fusion albums is this fund-raiser album for Preservation Hall that includes many musical luminaries playing with the Preservation Hall jazz band. This music is just full of life!
7. This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem: In some ways, I could have ranked this #1, because I listen to it at least once a week and it keeps growing on me. It's techno, sort-of. It rocks, a lot.
8. Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes: It's like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear mashed together, and lovely.
9. The King of Limbs, Radiohead: I'll have to listen to it for the rest of the summer to see whether I think it is as great as Thom Yorke's new solo stuff or past Radiohead, but it is sonically complex.
10. Blessed, Lucinda Williams: I have to give a shout out to a native of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I still think Car Wheels and Gravel Roads was her greatest album, but this one gets back to that sound and rocks.
Finally, a separate list of what I consider to be a burgeoning genre in 2011, the "comeback" album. All three of these bands have been around a lot time, but they wandered a bit, but now they're back in amazing form!
1. Collapse Into Now, R.E.M.: I seriously wondered whether I should buy a new R.E.M. or just go back and keep listening to the back catalog, but then on a whim, I bought it at Starbucks, and wow wow wow! It's like going back to Green or that period while also being new and crisp.
2. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, Beastie Boys: It's like you're back in the 80s, and you know you love it.
3. Move Like This, The Cars: Ditto!